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Modern working conditions a throwback to '20s, '30s

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“Stop poverty!” “No more unpaid overtime!” “Takiji’s voice is being heard!”

So read some of the placards held aloft by 5000-odd demonstrators at Tokyo’s Meiji Park on Oct 5. The slogans at first blush sound archaic, something from a bygone age. But history’s spiral is more circular than linear. Modern working conditions, says Weekly Playboy (Nov 17), are a throwback to the 1920 and ’30s.

“Takiji’s voice” rang loud and clear 80 years ago. Takiji’s surname is Kobayashi, and his 1929 novel “Kani Kosen” (The Factory Ship) was an exemplar of the “proletarian literature” whose mass popularity mocked vicious police repression. Kobayashi himself, a member of the outlawed Communist Party, was arrested and tortured to death in 1933.

“Kani Kosen” tells the story of a failed strike against slave-driving overseers on board a ship catching and processing crab off the Hokkaido coast. A bestseller in its day, it sank into neglect and was forgotten for decades, a victim of mass prosperity that made its theme seem irrelevant.

It no longer does, and “Kani Kosen” is a bestseller once more, selling 500,000 copies this year alone.

Weekly Playboy doesn’t tell us if 28-year-old Fumi Shimizu read the book, but the magazine’s presentation of his plight suggests he would identify with it.

He’s introduced as a typical young worker of today. He graduated from senior high school and became a freeter, but longed to escape the deadening part-time job circuit into fulltime employment. In September 2006, he got his chance, courtesy of 99-Plus, which operates Shop 99 convenience stores. “I was so happy,” he says, “I gave the job everything I had.”

Then he noticed something disconcerting: all his seniors seemed to be quitting. He soon found out why. After nine months on the job, he was promoted to store manager. Great title. Don’t trust it.

Technically, “managers” are not eligible for overtime pay. A title with management connotations gives an employer the excuse to squeeze overtime out of you without paying for it. Shimizu’s days off were days off in name only. His phone would ring: “The part-time cashier didn’t show up, please come immediately.” In August 2007, he worked 85 hours over four days -- more than 20 hours a day. All that for a monthly paycheck of less than 220,000 yen.

Insomnia brought on depression, which sent him to hospital. He was laid off. He turned, as Weekly Playboy says more and more young workers are doing, to a budding union for help. The Tokyo Young People’s Union claims a current membership of 350. It offers consultation and help not only to abused workers but to the unemployed homeless as well.

In May, with the union’s help, Shimizu sued 99-Plus for overtime pay and additional compensation. The case is ongoing. “This suit is not just for me,” says Shimizu. “It’s for all workers who are being exploited and thrown away. It’s to say to employers, ‘Treat us like human beings!’”

“Kani Kosen,” sums up union secretary-general Makoto Kawazoe, “is not just history. It’s happening right now.”

© Japan Today

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

13 Comments
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Japanese people are exploited as they never stand up for themselves. If bosses can treat their workers as slaves, they will and they do. It means more money for them. Let's see strong unions who are not up the bosses' a**. Let's see demonstrations, let's see riots and unrest. It's the only way.

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this articule exactly explains why japanese youngsters refrain from accepting promotions as well as taking up more job responsibilities for their companies.

bosses and CEO'S: be good to your employees b4 they would contribute their effort whole-heartedly!!

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It's an exaggeration to say we're back to the sweatshops.

Unfortunately, it's not nearly as much of an exaggeration as it could be. The physical work conditions may be better than the 20s and 30s, but the attitude towards workers is very much the same.

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Work in Japan has always been of a sweatshop nature with longer hours of unpaid overtime. There were compensations in better times for the better paid workers who had so-called lifetime employment (in reality up to the age of around 50) and who accounted for only 17% of the workforce. Well, things have changed. It's not only the ongoing Japanese recession leftover from the burst bubble of the 1990s but also the fact that there is now a labor surplus, except in certain low-paying and high stress areas like social welfare, because Japanese companies have moved manufacturing overseas. What is left to a great extent are the "MacJobs" --low-paying service work. The earmark of the Mcjob is the fake promotion to manager, whereby the companies don't have to pay you overtime.

To make things worse, Japan has a cast system, meaning that once you are off the good nursery school to high school to good university to good company track you are screwed. You are are also screwed it you fall off the track somehow. To steal a line from F. Scott Fitzgerald, there are no second acts in Japanese lives.

Japan has always been a Kani Kosen, only now has gotten worse with more and more workers being stuck with unbearable working conditions and lousy wages. This is happening simply because the capitalists can get away with it. They can get away with it because the Japanese have been passive and submissive to the system way too long.

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They don't complain and when they become managers they will do exactly the same thing. Nasty cycle here. The kohai/sempai thing is horrible. "I suffered so you must as well" seems to be the mentality. Can't say I feel sorry for those who stay. If they are good at their jobs they'll either be treated better or are able to find another job. If they are average, well... work harder to become better and wanted. Companies don't want to lose good people. Working at a place like a conbini or MacDonalds?? Tough call as anyone can pretty much do the job and the companies know that.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japanese people are exploited as they never stand up for themselves. If bosses can treat their workers as slaves, they will and they do. It means more money for them. Let's see strong unions who are not up the bosses' a**. Let's see demonstrations, let's see riots and unrest. It's the only way.

They are unaware of it. They are hypnotized and programmed from birth to work like slaves. By the way, fear of losing job and end up on the street makes things worse. Many J people live life on loans like house, cars, LV etc. To pay this you need sacrifice or your loved one will leave you.

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This has been the same in every country I've worked in. The lower paid jobs have an overtime structure (time and a half, double time, etc) but any managerial post has a fixed salary no matter how many hours you put in.

Things are worse for Japanese workers because Japanese society hangs on to values that are irrelevant in the modern world. There needs to be changes in labor laws and the laws that already exist need to be enforced. I wish Shimizu all the best with his lawsuit.

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Could we go back to Meiji, or maybe Edo Jidai?

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Things are worse for Japanese workers because Japanese society hangs on to values that are irrelevant in the modern world. There needs to be changes in labor laws and the laws that already exist need to be enforced.

100% Correct.

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This is the reason we have Unions. People are brainwashed to believe that Unions are somehow "for lazy people" or "commie", but the reality is that without Unions we would be working as slaves.

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The problem is that labour laws are enforced far too rarely, and if you complain or insist on your rights as a worker you're often looked at as a difficult "demanding" and ungrateful guy, somehow betraying your company...

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For some reason Japan's workforce is suffering from false sense of responsibility. Japan could have done my better if people tried to practice free market job market. Don't like you condition? Just quit! Instead they say rubbish like "no, i can't i can't leave my coworkers" or "no i can't my employer doesn't let me go" or "no i can't, i need to finish my project". Who cares? Not every workplace is bad. Once people realize that and start leaving their work places, more trouble will be for employers who will be forced to improve their working conditions! Stop whining and get smart! Free market doesn't even need labor laws.

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Force employers to improve working conditions by all means possible. If a workplace is bad, just leave.

Just quit and tell off your employer,why. The future is made by people,if people do all they can to improve work conditions,future is better for japan workforce.I agree with your ideas,nisegaijin.

Japan get smart ,push employers to reduce bad workplace.

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